With the current health crisis creating unprecedented challenges, Frost & Sullivan recently created a Customer Contact Webinar series comprised of a week’s worth of virtual customer contact content.  Diverse and timely insights were presented live by a select group of industry experts and speakers. Each 30 minute presentation was followed by a 30 minute interactive virtual roundtable discussion exclusively for Customer Engagement Leadership Council members.

We hope the following summary document helps you to continue to learn, collaborate and serve your customers during this difficult time.

Here are the essential insights from all the presentations:

Day 1: Best Practices for Managing a Remote Team
Gary Magenta, Chief Change  Architect and Senior Vice President, Customer Experience and Rashel Rogers, Leadership Effectiveness Coach, Root Inc.

Gary Magenta underscored the fact that due to the pandemic, we are all dealing with personal and professional disruption, often including priorities and circumstances that shift daily. Under these circumstances, it’s particularly important to stay connected to your team as they work remotely, many for the first time. Gary presented a framework to help guide leaders through unchartered waters:

Know Your Role

The importance of being an authentic people leader and helping employees stay engaged was emphasized. Noting that “You are now Chief Engagement Officers” Gary emphasized that people should be the first priority for managers. As stated, “People leaders must act differently and more deliberately to engage people remotely.” More one-on-one and group communications with employees was recommended as well as assessing where employees are personally first, and then moving on to business.

Know Your Business

Determine what is most important for your team to understand and how best to share that. Perhaps that means starting with the big picture for your industry/marketplace and moving on to specific changes your organization may be implementing. You may need to (honestly) say, “I don’t know” or “this might change” and that’s okay. The key is to be honest and transparent. As observed, many managers feel like they need to have all the answers, but that’s not necessary now; nor is it always possible.

Connect With Your Team

As noted above, it’s very important to stay connected to your team. Managers should also connect any new information to the organization’s purpose or mission — this will provide meaning despite possible uncertainty. You may want to review Root’s Tips for Managing a Remote Team here: https://www.rootinc.com/tips-for-managing-a-remote-team/

Deliver Results

To help your company pivot to meet new business realities you’ll want to coach and develop your team to do their part. This may mean building new and better relationships as employees work together in new ways. To help them succeed, you’ll need to be clear about shifting roles and priorities as frequently as needed.

Customer Engagement Leadership Council Member Discussion

After the presentation, there was an exclusive members-only discussion facilitated by Gary and Rashel. Key take-aways included:

  • When it comes to frequency or cadence of touch points between managers and remote employees, there is no “one size fits all.” It’s about personalization, as some people need a fair amount of support, while others are fine and productive when left on their own. It’s best to observe and adapt accordingly
  • Some members expressed that their teams were communicating more effectively now. One member noted that morning video meetings showed “what people were not saying on video.” He was strongly considering keeping morning huddle meetings even when back in the office
  • A “no meeting Thursday” (or something similar) to combat meeting fatigue and give employees time to work without interruption was discussed and recommended
  • The time-proven practice of having a meeting agenda (and even sending it beforehand) was recommended as a way to keep meetings focused and productive
  • As some call center agents were struggling on phones while working from home – perhaps due to distractions – a possible solution offered was to take them off phone duty and let them focus on email or chat functions…a la a “COVID-19 offset”

Day 2: Adjusting your CX Strategy in the Midst of COVID-19
Rachelle L. Dever, Vice President, Customer Relations & Brand Experience
Signature Flight Support

Rachelle opened the webinar by encouraging listeners to ask: Does my customer experience strategy still matter considering the current global pandemic? Is it still timely and relevant? She encouraged everyone to examine previous customer experience plans in the context of what  she termed the “new world order playbook” and shared that a major initiative she had planned to implement was no longer timely or relevant in its current form, so she was postponing it.

Rachelle suggested seeking ways to lower costs if a planned project was very important and would need to be implemented now. She also suggested putting the work in now for important initiatives, but implementing them at a later date. If you will need to move forward with certain projects now, be sure that the results can be measured.

Consider testing the waters via social media to get a sense of how your customers are feeling in general, or to get some feedback in real time about possible initiatives. Rachelle emphasized that the most important goal right now is to help your customers…in whatever shape or form that might be for your organization and industry. As she stated, as customer service providers, the last thing you want to do is appear “tone deaf.” Finally, it may be time to transition to becoming a new or different kind of organization. If so, get started now.

Customer Engagement Leadership Council Member Discussion

  • Deliver the best customer experience you can – but address the COVID-19 crisis too
  • Keep employees safe and at the forefront of your plans
  • Widen the lens to review full year or multi-year customer experience plans, not just the current quarter or time period
  • Develop a disaster playbook and business continuity plan if you don’t already have one in place
  • Remember “disaster is the mother of all invention” – act accordingly
  • Don’t stop working towards growth, but recognize that you may have to use different tools, tactics or operational strategies now

Day 3: Integrating the Contact Center into the Organization-Wide Digital Experience
Gabriele Masili, VP & Chief Technology Officer, Customer Service & Support,
Microsoft

Gabriele “G” Masili stated that there is a revolution coming for the contact center and shared an overview of how to get there. He began his presentation by outlining the following about the evolution of customer service, in which companies vary in where they fall across three eras as defined by a leading research company:

Three Eras of Customer Service Functions

  1. Line-service dominant: people powered via a large agent base dedicated to providing service to customers, mainly by phone
  2. Digital as a “bolt on”: digital complements the customer service infrastructure but service is not designed around it. Functionality as add-on service with attempt to meet customers in preferred channel
  3. Self-service dominant: organized around a digital-first experience supported by a limited number of very experienced agents

Gabriele believes that customers should be able to solve most of their problems on their own, when and where they prefer. With this mode, customer service changes from a commodity to a specialized function supported by agents who have deep knowledge and can truly delight customers. He outlined specific strategies and results achieved by Microsoft on the way to achieving this goal. These included:

  • Put the customer at the center of your strategy and structure; empower them
  • Create a winning CX framework, one that enables employees to be successful via the right structure and training – create an authentic and diverse workforce
  • Remember: customer support should not be separate from the rest of the organization – it needs to be integrated throughout the organization

2019 fiscal year results from Microsoft’s efforts to create a digital-first customer experience strategy include: 32M impressions of the Microsoft Virtual Agent, 6M sessions with the Microsoft Support and Recovery Assistant, 7.4B* digital interactions, resulting in 76M digital resolutions*– which is more digital resolutions than human ones! Key lessons learned included:

  • Don’t try to solve 100% of customer problems, it just won’t work; give option of speaking to a person
  • Involve your CX team in all aspects of new solutions, including designing, testing and deploying them
  • Keep refreshing your content and learning from it. Information learned and changes made often led to improved performance
  • The right combination of technology and people – not one or the other – will lead to ultimate success

Customer Engagement Leadership Council Member Discussion

  • Consensus: Well-designed digital solutions can facilitate proactive rather than reactive customer service
  • Bots often lead to reduced handling times and significant savings
  • Gabriele’s recommendations included: Starting small, experimenting and failing fast, maybe by setting up a web forum for example. Cultivate an agile approach. Consider trying one approach…and then trying its opposite
  • Make sure to look at the user’s entire end-to-end experience
  • Don’t be afraid to crowdsource and leverage your customer community. One member noted that their mega-users often came up with better solutions than the organization did!
  • Make sure the customer’s digital trail is transparent, so if the customer moves to an agent you will avoid repetition and frustrated customers

Day 4: Creating a Work-From-Home Team Culture of High-Performance,
Trust and Belonging
Mike Robbins, Author and Keynote Speaker

Mike Robbins, former Kansas City Royals pitcher turned author and motivational speaker, opened his virtual presentation by sharing an enduring observation he made on the baseball circuit years ago: “Often, teams had great talent but didn’t win, while teams with good talent but great teamwork, did win.” There is much to learn from this in the world of business and he has made a life’s work doing so.

Mike asked the members, “What is the most stressful and challenging for you and your team right now?” Answers included: Way too many meetings, survivor’s guilt, feeling disconnected, personal stress, and uncertainty about roles. Staying relevant and dealing with new technology challenges was also mentioned. Mike reminded members that there have always been team challenges and always will be.  Yet, what great, or successful teams do best is focus on the mindset, i.e. how are we approaching our challenges? They create a winning team culture.

Mike then shared a pivotal moment in his own life: When an injury put an end to his baseball career, a wise friend counseled him to ask, “Why is this happening for me?” (Instead of asking: “Why is this happening to me?”) This shift in thinking can foster a re-framing of your situation and challenges and give you the chance to look for the opportunity, even in difficult situations.

Mike also asked, “What have you been doing with your team to create psychological safety?” He advised that good leaders ask their team members how they are feeling. He reminded all that with the pandemic crisis, it is okay to ask your team or staff if they need help, too. He also endorsed scheduling more informational meetings to keep staff connected and in the loop, even if that means you have to say “I don’t know” given the current health and work environment. Mike’s latest book, We’re All in this Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust and Belonging, can be found at Mike-Robbins.com/Together.

Customer Engagement Leadership Council Member Discussion

  • Create a balance between structured and unstructured communications for all those working from home by scheduling a few less meetings and a few more informal conversations; make space for “water cooler meetings”
  • Consider setting up lunchtime chats on video to compensate for lost and necessary socialization with colleagues
  • Find a way to stay connected to your team; one member shared that she sent a small gift with a personal note as a way of reaching out
  • Listen to your employees, and remember that every situation is different, some may not want to work from home and/or don’t have the resources or space to do so
    • Example: an employee was not comfortable making calls from home, so her manager reduced her phone time and assigned her to chat function instead
  • Remember: “Circumstances don’t define us…they reveal us”

Day 5:  Harnessing the Next Wave of Emerging Technologies in the Contact Center
Aarde Cosseboom
Senior Director of GMS Technology, Analytics, and Product
TechStyle Fashion Group

TechStyle Fashion Group utilizes an online platform and a monthly membership model to build and sell global fashion brands endorsed and marketed by celebrities. Brands include JustFab, Fabletics, ShoeDazzle and others. Senior Director Aarde Cosseboom gave a brief overview of his company’s journey in successfully implementing AI powered automation with advanced natural language capabilities. Aarde stated that his company sought an automation tool to help offset caller volume spikes and reduce non-revenue generating calls and shared that the technology implementation was a huge success.

Phone, chat and social media (not email) are the company’s primary customer service channels. In the webinar, Aarde played actual customer calls that illustrated how the company was able to use chatbots to help customers and provide a satisfying customer experience, too. He gave very high marks to SmartAction, the AI-powered solution provider they have worked with for over five years. Aarde encouraged others to do their research when evaluating automation options, and noted that although building an internal solution would take longer, it but might be the right choice for some businesses.

Customer Engagement Leadership Council Member Discussion

  • As discussed, there will always be a portion of callers who want to talk to a human; the TechStyle platform allows for this
  • The TechStyle platform can recognize the voice even if customer calls from a different phone
  • Aarde stated that it’s important to continuously monitor for quality – TechStyle conducts an internal platform audit every six months
  • Several of the members were exploring automation options and were in the research phase
  • Other member companies were looking into sentiment analysis
  • Aarde reminded all that implementation is an important step in the process once a platform has been selected, and encouraged members to reach out with additional questions
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